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The generation of good intentions but appalling inaction

By Suzanne Dvorak - posted Thursday, 24 June 2010

In recent years, we have witnessed unprecedented levels of co-operation between nations, international institutions, corporations and political opponents in a determined effort to stem the worst effects of the global financial crisis. This powerful consensus has resulted in decisive action and huge financial bailouts.

A decade ago the world united together in another global consensus - the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which aim to significantly reduce poverty in the developed world by 2015. Yet 10 years later that consensus has not translated into concrete action for many women and children. With only five years remaining until the 2015 deadline to achieve these goals, decisive and cohesive action - like the resolve generated to tackle the financial crisis - is both needed and long overdue.

The goals of reducing child mortality by two-thirds (MDG 4) and cutting maternal mortality by three-quarters (MDG 5) are among the MDGs most heavily off-track. Every year, nearly 9 million children die before the age of five from easily preventable or treatable causes, while half a million women die from pregnancy-related complications and infections.


The sad reality is that we grow numb to numbers like this.

Imagine if the combined populations of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide were dying annually of a contagious illness like swine flu. The world would wake up and governments would fall if they failed to act. The reality is that millions of deaths are happening in the poorest and most marginalised parts of our world and we simply accept that as a fact of life. The world’s governments rallied to help the banks and car companies; why are we not doing the same for mothers and children?

The meetings of G8 and G20 leaders in Canada this week, followed closely by the Millennium Development Goal Review Summit at the United Nations in September, are pivotal moments on the road to what should be a global awakening and serious campaign to achieve MDGs 4 and 5.

The Canadian hosts have emphasised that maternal, newborn and child health is an absolute priority for G8 leaders.

But G20 nations can - and should - play a significant role in helping put the world back on track to achieving the MDGs, especially those related to maternal and child survival. Representing two-thirds of the global population and 85 per cent of the world’s GDP, the G20 has the capacity to address hunger, under-nutrition and mortality among the world’s most vulnerable children.

As a key player in the G20, Australia should push for a stronger role for the G20 in order to ensure that development issues are part of the G20’s future agenda.


This is almost certainly one of the last opportunities to take the required steps to improve maternal and child health - including developing credible and costed national plans, increasing investment in and strengthening local healthcare systems and expanding coverage of proven, cost-effective interventions to dramatically reduce maternal and child mortality.

Save the Children’s recent State of the World’s Mothers report outlined how investment in national healthcare plans that deliver antenatal and postnatal care, skilled attendance at childbirth, management of diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria, and universal access to immunisation and vaccines can radically improve the chances of survival for many mothers and children.

Reducing the global health worker shortage by recruiting and training 2.5 million health care professionals and 1 million community health workers around the world would enable the delivery of essential services and provide much needed income for poor families.

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About the Author

Suzanne Dvorak is CEO of Save the Children in Australia.

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